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Legal Battle Over Flood-Control Basin Splits San Bernardino County Board

Supervisors are divided 4 to 1, with Paul Biane lamenting a court ruling against developers that could delay work he sees as vital after the fires.

November 20, 2003|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

A long-brewing legal dispute over a commercial development in Upland has divided the normally close-knit San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

The split became public last week when four members of the board and Supervisor Paul Biane issued opposing press releases in reaction to news that the county won a legal battle over the project -- with Biane lamenting the county victory.

While county officials say the dispute has not damaged the relationship between board members, the legal battle is expected to drag on for several months.

"At times we are going to disagree," said Supervisor Fred Aguiar. "But most of the time, if not all of the time, this board is on the same side on the issues that affect the whole county."

At the heart of the dispute is a 110-acre residential and commercial development under construction near the Foothill Freeway in Upland. The county and the developers -- the Colonies Partners -- have battled in court for years over who must pay for flood-control improvements that are vital to the project.

Biane stood alongside his colleagues on the board, voting with them to hire lawyers to try to force the developer to pay.

But in August, a Superior Court judge dealt a blow to the county's cause, saying the county flood-control district had abandoned its right to land for a flood-control basin in the area years ago -- a ruling that paves the way for developers to force the county to upgrade the basin to hold floodwater and runoff from the recently extended freeway.

Armed with the August ruling, the developer recently began grading around the basin. Colonies Partners officials said they planned to upgrade the basin and pass the bill to the county.

But last week, the county asked a state court to halt the grading until it can hear an appeal. The court of appeals granted the request, ordering the developers to stop the work.

Four of the five county supervisors released a statement praising the decision. Biane, who represents Upland and has close ties to a partner in the project, issued his own statement expressing disappointment with the ruling. He said it is time the county give up the legal battle and settle with the developer.

"I understand the strategy and approach taken by the majority of the Board of Supervisors in this legal matter, but I feel that the county may have won this battle but will ultimately lose the legal war with the Colonies," Biane said.

Biane said he opposed his colleagues' decision to appeal because any delays in resolving the dispute will increase threats to residents of Upland when the winter rains arrive. County officials have warned that the recent wildfires have left the charred mountains and valleys vulnerable to flooding and mudslides.

Biane dismissed suggestions that he sided with Colonies Partners because of his ties with Dan Richards, a development partner in the project. Biane, a former real estate agent, worked with Richards on a real estate deal years ago. Colonies Partners donated $10,000 to Biane's campaign last year.

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